I want to really open up to you guys this week and tell you a little about what makes my story a little different.
We can start with the fact that I’m from Arkansas. Yes, I wear shoes. No, we don’t marry our cousins (at least not in Northwest Arkansas- the civilized part of the state). I can call those hogs and I’m proud of it. Northwest Arkansas (home to Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt, and Tyson) is the best place to live in the nation.
Six knee surgeries got me hooked on coaching. Initially, it was the only way I thought I could stay involved in this game.
And, here’s the kicker. I have autism spectrum disorder (appropriately identified according to the DSM-5). It used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. I have it. To set the record straight, autism is not an intellectual disability or a learning disability. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder. I’m not stupid. In fact, I’m probably smarter than you if we’re still being honest. Autism affects me in a lot of different ways, some positive and some negative.
I get picked on a lot for some of my different coping mechanisms and for my social habits. This has happened a lot more since I moved to Whitewater. I think this primarily has to do with stepping out of my comfort zone and moving 800 miles away to where no one knows me. If I am at work or away from home then I always have a fidget on my person. It’s something that I can play with in my hand or chew on. Sometimes, I shake my hands. I go swing during lunch if it isn’t too cold. I wear three compression shirts everyday underneath my clothes. I am beyond picky about my clothing. And don’t even think about messing up my routine.
Socially, I am learning. Eye contact is hard. It hurts. Conversations are hard. I have a couple topics that I am really good at focusing on, but am not good at much else. I have learned how to introduce myself and shake someone’s hand without freaking out. I am miserable in large crowds. I don’t understand sarcasm, I’m really literal, and I tend to laugh when I get stuck. I rock just thinking about the positions I end up in as a coach. Recruiting is tough, especially being able to engage with PSA’s and their families. (I actually just got my first recruit to agree to a campus visit. That’s coming up on Friday.) I finally am figuring out the script to talk to these people, and yes, I do have a script.
So what are the positives? First, I’m smart. Second, I’m loyal. I do everything you say, so be careful what you say. Third, I love the X’s and O’s part of basketball because I love patterns. Fourth, I’m great at numbers and I love statistics. Fifth, I’m honest…to a fault. I am working on “think everything you say but don’t say everything you think.” Sixth, I’m a great babysitter because I love Lego’s, animated movies, and hanging out with people who don’t know the social rules any better than I do. Seventh, I’m organized. I like lists (you may have caught on to this by now). Eighth, when I am interested in something, it sometimes becomes an obsession. To make it sound better, we call it a “special interest”. Ninth…ok that’s all I can come up with right now.
I’ll never be a great public speaker. I process conversations slowly. My words get mixed up and sometimes they don’t come at all. So why do I tell all of you this? All of these people that may become my boss one day? These people that don’t know me and just learned every reason I have to not hire me? Because I dare you not to hire me. “Autism” may be my diagnosis but it does not define me. I am so much more than a label. In the same way, as coaches, we are dealing with these kids that come in with these labels. This kid has a crappy family situation. This kid is spoiled. This kid is dumb. That one over there is lazy. What about you? What did people label you as? I’ve been labeled weird, dumb, stupid, retarded, selfish, obsessive, hopeless, mute, spoiled, an undisciplined brat, and so much more. “Haters gonna hate. Proverbs 9:8.”
All those words in an attempt to limit my life and what I can achieve. Putting labels on our student-athletes boxes them in. It limits what they can achieve. So maybe you’re right. They may act spoiled, they may do dumb things, they may come from a rotten family situation, they may be a little lazy. That is not who they are. That’s just part of who they are. When we, as coaches, can find the positive aspects of each student-athlete, we will help them become limitless. Instead of focusing on what they cannot do, focus on what they are good at. I can defy expectations and do more than other people think I can. I can choose to focus on the parts of autism that make me special. And it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, that’s for sure. Those bad parts still exist and they still make me miserable, and that bad stuff still drives us all crazy.
We all have our own battles. ASD happens to be mine. But my battle isn’t who I am. It affects who I am and it shapes who I will become but I am not autism. Whatever battles you’re fighting or whatever battles your student-athlete are fighting, it’s not your definition and it is not your destiny. We can be more than any label and we can be more than any battle. Keep fighting. Keep battling. And ignore the haters. I am autistic, I am a college basketball coach, and I am unashamed.
“The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.”
***This post was originally written for and published by 5StateHoops.com.